As if taking you through 200+ years of American history inside The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation wasn’t enough, you could spend another whole day outside the museum in Greenfield Village!
Sitting on 200 acres, this conglomeration of 100 historic dwellings includes everything from Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratories to poet Robert Frost’s homestead, and everything in between.
One of the best ways to start your tour of the 100 buildings that make up Greenfield Village is to hop aboard the steam locomotive just inside the gates to get an overview of all that the village encompasses.
The Torch Lake steam locomotive was built in 1873 and runs 3-miles along the track within the park. You’ll notice one of the early innovations that Henry Ford wished to preserve when creating this living history museum: the 1901 turntable that allowed workers to easily turn these massive locomotives. Check out the Roundhouse where these engines are worked on. It’s a piece of history that we rarely get to see.
Porches & Parlors
One section of Greenfield Village is called “Porches & Parlors.” This expanse of rolling hills is dotted with historic houses of great Americans that have been carefully transported and reconstructed at Henry Ford’s initiative. I was especially drawn to the collection of homes of American literary innovators, such as:
Taking a stroll past these homesites, some of which can be accessed, was inspirational to me. I am always hoping that a little bit of literary genius will rub off on me as I encounter the same space that great writers have inhabited. Fingers crossed!
I imagine that other people might hope to feel inspired by the great minds that inhabited other spots included in Greenfield Village.
My friend Dave was fascinated by the machinery we saw inside Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park and Fort Myers buildings moved to Greenfield Village from their original home in New Jersey. The machinery used in Edison’s laboratory in 1876 is still working today!
Edison held 1,093 patents covering the creation or refinements of devices in telegraphy and telephony, electric power generation and lighting, sound recording, motion pictures, storage batteries, and mining and cement technology. Incredible accomplishments, but more importantly, he also design a laboratory space for the meeting of the minds of other scientific and mechanical genius to collaborate and advance the world. This is what Menlo Park was all about, and the care and continuation of these inventions continues to draw scientific minds even today.
These laboratories were places to experiment and test theories; a place to collaborate with other great minds. To me, Menlo Park was one giant test tube of possibility.
Henry Ford, a close friend of Edison’s, constructed a replica of the Menlo Park complex. He moved the only two surviving buildings, the Glass House and Sarah Jordan’s Boarding House, to Greenfield Village, and had all remaining machinery that could be found relocated to Greenfield Village to fill the laboratory.
Dave and the guide talked quite a bit about the maintenance required of such antique machinery. Apparently, all of the equipment is inspected and run every 10 years to ensure that everything still starts. Amazing technology. I think Dave would be completely content spending days inside Menlo Park, inspecting all the intricacies of Edison’s designs. Perhaps he could volunteer someday… or just get a membership and re-visit all the machines at his leisure.
I was certainly a little more familiar with the tools and machinery involved in farm life. Growing up in the Ohio, machinery used on farms makes much more sense to me; I didn’t need to visualize what it all might do. In fact, walking into the barn exhibit at Greenfield Village was much like walking into many barns I’ve been in around home.
In addition to barns that you can explore, there are demonstrations of farm life activity that are mesmerizing to watch. While we were there, one of the “farmers” was shearing a sheep and explaining the process as we watched wool fall to the ground.
You can wander along the healthy gardens, or talk to some of the homesteaders who can share how families in the 19th and 20th centuries managed their farms. I imagine children are especially drawn to areas like the farmstead where they can pet the animals. This was the most easily relatable part of Greenfield Village to me and it reminded me a little of Colonial Willliamsburg. Living history museums like these really bring history to life.
I jokingly mentioned getting a membership to The Henry Ford, but I wasn’t really kidding. This compound of wonder is a place I’d definitely like to revisit — maybe even this summer! Now that health restrictions are lifting, some of the recently-cancelled attractions at The Henry Ford are ready to resume. Things like riding in an old Model T Ford, or watching an 1867 baseball game (which has different rules than American baseball today). Making another trip there this summer would be fantastic. But really, I doubt there’s a time when you could visit The Henry Ford that wouldn’t be filled with wonders to see and explore. I know I’ll go back! And I’ll bet I have plenty of volunteers to go with me. 😉
Which of the attractions at Greenfield Village speak to you?
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**Special thanks to The Henry Ford for hosting our visit. We loved it!